Ultimate Guide to Exit Interviews: Best Practices, Questions to Ask, and What to Expect

February 19, 2024

Exit interviews can help businesses better understand why employees are leaving and, as a result, lower staff turnover. In this article, we look at how to use them to your advantage.

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Exit interviews might seem like just another box to check on an employee's way out the door — but they can be so much more than a mere formality. 

These conversations are gold mines of insights, offering a peek behind the proverbial workplace curtain. From the nitty-gritty of daily grind grievances to the big-picture stuff that makes or breaks job satisfaction, departing employees can provide a candid look at your company's culture and operations.

These final chats can be more than just a goodbye. They’re a can’t-miss opportunity to shape a workplace that attracts top talent and keeps them happy and engaged for the long haul. 

Ready to turn those farewells into a roadmap for the future? Let’s plot your course.

Key Takeaways

  • Exit interviews are formal conversations with a departing employee designed to provide crucial insights into the employee experience.
  • HR managers conduct exit interviews to ensure impartiality, encouraging open and honest feedback, and to place the feedback within the broader context of the organization's health and dynamics.
  • Preparing for exit interviews involves reviewing the employee's history, reaching out beforehand to set expectations, and using standardized questions to create a consistent and actionable feedback loop.

What is an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is a structured conversation between an organization and a departing employee. It’s intended to tie up any administrative loose ends and give the employee a platform to provide feedback.

This dialogue is designed to gather insights about the employee's experiences within the company, encompassing aspects such as job satisfaction, workplace environment, management effectiveness, and company culture

Importantly, exit interviews offer organizations a strategic opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of their internal operations from an employee's perspective. This feedback mechanism is instrumental in uncovering underlying issues, recognizing patterns of concern, and acknowledging organizational strengths from a firsthand viewpoint. 

Why Do HR Managers Conduct Exit Interviews? 

HR (as opposed to an employee’s direct supervisor) is usually responsible for conducting the exit interview to help ensure neutrality. It's all about creating a safe space where a departing employee can talk about sensitive matters without any side-eye.

This approach minimizes potential biases and encourages departing employees to be more open and honest in their feedback. When HR leads the interview, employees may feel more comfortable discussing topics without fear of reprisal.

HR professionals are also better equipped to understand feedback within the broader context of organizational dynamics. This expertise allows them to extract actionable insights from the interviews, which might not be as effectively achieved by a direct manager, who may be more focused on the specifics of the employee's role or departmental issues.

Are Exit Interviews Mandatory?  

Exit interviews are a routine step in the employee lifecycle, but they’re only mandatory if your organization deems it necessary. 

Even then, you’d be hard-pressed to enforce them on every departing worker, so it’s best to encourage them for team members who leave voluntarily. In other words, they’re less likely to be worthwhile when used on those being terminated for other reasons. 

Are Exit Interviews Confidential? 

Like the choice to mandate them or not, employers aren’t required to make exit interviews confidential. But it’s strongly recommended that they do so in the same way as employee engagement surveys and other feedback forms. 

Outline this in your employee handbook to encourage exiting employees to use the opportunity to voice their opinions. Detail who'll conduct interviews and what processes are in place to ensure confidentiality.

7 Benefits of Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are an excellent way to turn lemons into lemonade. Here are seven benefits for businesses that put them into practice: 

  1. Insight into organizational and cultural issues. Provided they don’t fear the consequences, departing employees can offer you vital information on what is and isn’t working in your company.
  2. Improved retention. Leavers shine a spotlight on problem areas and can suggest solutions to improve the employee experience and increase retention.
  3. Reduced hiring and onboarding costs. Using exit interview insights to improve retention can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. 
  4. Informs workforce planning. Interview data can also help HR identify concerning trends among exiting employees and stay on top of skills gaps or workforce shortages.
  5. More referrals and better networking. Employees that leave on a positive note are more likely to send some recruits your way.
  6. An improved employer brand. Tying up loose ends goes a long way toward improving your reputation as an employer. Even if not every departing employee becomes a promoter of your company, they’re less likely to be detractors.

How to Prepare for an Exit Interview

Here's how to gear up for an exit conversation that’s as productive as it is a farewell.

  1. Review the employee’s file. First, familiarize yourself with the employee’s work history. Be prepared for any issues or prominent topics that might come up with corresponding positive moments or milestones.
  2. Reach out beforehand. Prepare interviewees to get the most out of the experience. Communicate ahead of time that the exit interview is to be open, confidential, and opinion-based.
  3. Use standardized questions. Create a universal set of exit interview questions to help maintain a consistent experience and a more usable data set.  

Exit Interview Best Practices

While most team members will be happy to have an amicable conversation, conducting an exit interview isn’t always a walk in the park. Here are a few best practices to help make sure things go smoothly.

Schedule Exit Interviews Ahead of Time

Whether you make a phone call or send an email, reach out to your departing employee to formally schedule their exit interviews. This gives you a chance to communicate the purpose of the meeting and answer any questions beforehand.

When Should You Schedule an Exit Interview?

Many HR professionals feel it’s best to schedule an exit interview on an employee’s last day of work. But, if that’s not an option, there are a few reasons why you should still try to set it as close to their last day as possible:

  • Employees are more likely to open up if they know it’s their last day of work and won’t face any repercussions based on their answers.
  • They’re less likely to worry it’ll affect the reference they need for their next job, as this will often have been supplied already.
  • It dovetails more easily into the overall offboarding process without getting in the way of other tasks.

Send an Interview Guide

Create a brief guide that explains the exit interview process. This will help set the employee’s mind at ease as they’ll know exactly what will take place. You can reiterate the confidentiality of their answers and the business’ desire for complete openness and transparency.

Prioritize Neutrality

Host interviews in a neutral environment and always have an HR professional conduct them.

Be Enthusiastic and Supportive

Make sure the employee knows you’re excited about conducting the interview. Communicate that you fully support their decision to leave and the opinions they express before they do.

Don’t Hyperfocus on Them Leaving

It’s clearly important to gather information about why the employee is leaving, but focusing too much on this one aspect may cause you to miss out on other opportunities.

Ask a broad range of questions to cover areas like training, team dynamics, and company culture

9 Sample Exit Interview Questions

Diving into the heart of an exit interview requires the right set of questions, so here's a curated list that opens the door to candid conversations and insightful feedback.

  1. Why are you leaving the company? 
  2. Did you feel adequately prepared and equipped with the right tools to perform your job? 
  3. How would you describe your relationship with your manager?
  4. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  5. What did you like best and least about your role?
  6. How could we have better supported you in your role?
  7. What qualifications and skills should we seek in potential replacements?
  8. Was your compensation package fair? Why or why not?
  9. How would you rate the company and your time working here on a scale from 1 to 10?

Should You Use the Same Exit Interview Questions Every Time?

Ideally, yes. Following a set of standardized questions ensures a consistent experience for leavers and a more reliable data collection tool for the company. Asking the same questions can produce similar responses that HR can categorize into usable data sets.

What to Avoid During an Exit Interview

For a successful exit interview, it's key to make sure your departing employee is relaxed enough to open up. So, keep things straightforward and supportive by avoiding a few common pitfalls:

  1. Firings. An exit interview is a standalone discussion. It’s not a meeting for firing someone.
  2. Transitioning Work. Again, this interview is about getting honest responses. If logistical transitions are required, move them to another point in the offboarding process.
  3. Involving bosses or supervisors. A reporting manager is the last person a leaving employee wants to see during an open and transparent interview.
  4. Negative opinions about a new role or company. Maintain a positive attitude when discussing the employee’s next step. 
  5. Dodging criticism or being defensive. Take the employee’s responses on the chin, and acknowledge and thank them for their opinions.

What to Do After the Exit Interview

After the exit interview, the real work begins. 

It’s time to sift through the feedback, looking for the gold nuggets of insight that can lead to meaningful change. This step is crucial — it’s not just about collecting data, but about translating it into action. 

HR teams should meticulously analyze the responses, identify common themes, and consider how this feedback reflects on the organization's practices, culture, and environment. 

Whether it's a tweak to the onboarding process, a shift in management training, or a complete overhaul of the employee engagement strategy, the goal is to use what you've learned to make improvements that resonate with your workforce.

It's also about closing the loop.

Communicate back to the organization, where appropriate, about the changes being made as a result of exit interview feedback. This transparency not only validates the process but also reinforces a culture of continuous improvement and respect for employee input. 

Implementing stay interviews or regular feedback sessions as a preventative measure can also be a wise move, proactively addressing concerns and boosting retention. 

Remember, an exit interview isn't just an endpoint — it's a steppingstone to a more engaged and committed workforce.

Make Exit Interviews Easier with Automated Employee Offboarding Software

When you conduct exit interviews, you want to create a smooth and efficient process. Fortunately, you can simplify this with Paylocity’s all-in-one HR platform.

Paylocity offers a full suite of features that makes managing departing employees that much easier. 

  • Customizable Workflows automate the offboarding process and streamline administrative tasks, freeing you up for more strategic work. 
  • Easily capture employee feedback and analyze sentiment with Employee Voice
  • Data-driven dashboards with real-time visualizations for deeper understanding of employee trends. 

Request a demo today!


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